The Daly Show

Even in a summer of discontent for San Francisco progressives, bad-boy supervisor Chris Daly remains unbowed

He's also had the last laugh, politically, handily winning re-election in 2002 and 2006. Much to their chagrin, the dynamics of district elections have made Daly practically impervious to his political enemies. Although widely viewed as unelectable to citywide office, he remains a potent force at City Hall by ruling the roost in his district. In 2006, that translated to his garnering fewer than 9,000 votes.

His victory last year over challenger Rob Black was especially frustrating to his detractors, who saw Daly as potentially vulnerable for having cut deals with Rincon Hill high-rise developers. His foes hammered him for what they saw as his contradictory stance in accepting campaign cash from big developers he once railed against, while extracting concessions to transfer millions of dollars in so-called "community impact fees" to the coffers of Daly-approved charities in his district. Those same charities, his critics allege, supply the foot soldiers for Daly's political causes. Daly's argument: The high-rises were inevitable and it was better to capture benefits for the public good.

His foes ended up frustrated. Despite Black's being well-financed and enjoying the endorsement of the mayor, Daly still won by 10 percentage points.

Attired in gray sweats with "Tenderloin" emblazoned on the chest, Daly is rough-housing with son Jack, 3, in the living room of his condo while chatting on the cellphone wedged between his ear and shoulder.

His brother, John, a South Carolina radiologist — and his polar opposite, politically, as a card-carrying Republican defender of George W. Bush — has called to wish him a happy birthday, Daly's 35th. (The brothers remain close, thanks to a mutual pact not to discuss politics, friends say.)

The unpretentious condo, purchased with the help of a loan from his parents, is up three flights of stairs in a nondescript security building that opens onto an alley-wide street in the Mission. The downstairs consists of a kitchen and combination living/dining area which, if not for scattered toys, would appear more Spartan than it is. A well-worn sofa and loveseat sit in front of an oversized cabinet that hides a television.

The supervisor shares the home with his wife, Sarah Low Daly, 29, who is seven months pregnant with the couple's second child. By all accounts, she's a prominent force behind her husband's political persona.

"Chris and Sarah are kindred spirits; he doesn't do anything without her approval," says a Daly confidant, who didn't want to be identified. A Daly colleague at City Hall recalls how Sarah Daly has been known to even call her husband to egg him on during legislative debates while watching the supervisors' proceedings on TV from home.

She's certainly no shrinking violet.

At a victory celebration after Daly's re-election last November, she took to the stage at DNA Lounge to lambaste her husband's political tormentors, including the police union and a local plumbers union. But her choicest words (captured on a video that turned up on YouTube but was later removed) were reserved for restaurateurs who've sued to block the city's universal health care, which Chris Daly has long favored. "To the mother-fuckers who don't want to pay people a living wage at the Golden Gate Restaurant Association," she shouted, "fuck you!"

Yet Sarah Daly declined to be interviewed for this article, citing her husband's wishes. Ditto for Daly's parents, who, despite having retired to an exclusive golf-course community in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, dutifully descend upon San Francisco each election cycle to help their son stump for votes.

During the run-up to last year's election, Daly's father was usually the first person to show up at campaign headquarters, arriving at 5 a.m. each day to sweep the floor, says Bill Barnes, the former Daly aide. Daly's mother, along with Sarah, helped prepare nearly 400 sandwiches for volunteers on election night. But it hasn't all been pleasant. Sources close to the supervisor say that, despite his propensity to dish it out, Daly is super-sensitive with regard to his family and was chagrined after both his wife and parents were subjected to verbal abuse on the streets during the last campaign.

Daly cites such concerns in explaining why he prefers that his wife and other relatives not give interviews.

"My family has taken enough hits," he says. "I'd just as soon not increase their exposure."

He also cites his family as the main reason he chose to stay out of the mayor's race.

But his critics are skeptical.

"They didn't field a candidate," says Newsom political consultant Eric Jaye, referring to Daly and the progressives. "It's pretty hard to spin that, particularly when you promised repeatedly that you would."

Yet, despite his overwhelming popularity, the man who is most often the recipient of Daly's scorn — the mayor — could be forgiven for breathing at least a small sigh of relief that his tormentor chose not to run.

"Although we're confident that Mayor Newsom would have prevailed by a wide margin, it wouldn't have been pleasant," concedes Nathan Ballard, the mayor's spokesman. "Chris Daly personalizes everything."

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